The Nature Of, Erm, Nature Writing

I think I have mentioned in the past my love for books set in the countryside, particularly ones set in the British countryside. This isn’t patriotism or xenophobia because chuck me into the Brazilian jungle, drop me on the islands of Sweden or the African plains and I am more than happy with the right book and the right writer – there is just something about the countryside I grew up in, or like it, that speaks to me. These books I mentioned are in the most part (seriously about 98% of the time) fiction. So why when I love the countryside and am obsessed with wildlife programmes on the telly do I not ever read any non-fiction nature books?

This is what I have been pondering on the many times I have headed into a branch of Waterstones in the last few months with birthday vouchers burning a hole in my pocket. As suddenly there seem to be books about nature here there and everywhere. Now I would say this is due to the success of H is for Hawk recently only I know someone will (quite correctly I am sure) say ‘no you philistine there have been lots of books about nature around forever, that one has just hit the public psyche;’ or something like that.

Yet why has the nature book suddenly become so popular and to the fore? If I had to hazard (a word which always makes me think aptly of buzzards, just putting that out there) a guess I wonder if it is because we are all beginning to get a bit over tired of screens and commuting and rushing and are looking out to nature as a calming influence. What do you think?

Anyway, fate has seemed to step in, as is often her want, as I then had an email from FMcM who do the PR for the Thwaites Wainright Prize, which I had to admit I hadn’t heard of before. As soon as I discovered it was for UK nature and travel writing I was sold especially as they were emailing about the shortlist which had just been announced, the winner is announced tomorrow…

  • Running Free: A Runner’s Journey Back to Nature, Richard Askwith (Yellow Jersey)
  • The Moor, William Atkins (Faber & Faber)
  • Claxton: Field Notes from a Small Planet, Mark Cocker (Vintage)
  • Meadowland, John Lewis-Stempel (Transworld)
  • H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald (Vintage)
  • Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place, Philip Marsden (Granta)

After going and googling away I saw this as a really exciting list of, bar the aforementioned H is for Hawk, new to me books and could be a really interesting way into this kind of writing. Yes even the running one. I also thought this would be a good chance to give some of these kind of books a whirl and as luck should have it a set is winging its way to me in the post, perfect post Fiction Uncovered reading as something very different and new to try.

And so could you. Yes, the lovely folk at FMcM have said one lucky visitor of this blog (again, like yesterday’s book giveaway, in the UK only due to postage) can win a set of all the shortlisted titles! What do you have to do? Well you know I love a book recommendation as much as recommending books so… I would like to know which fictional AND non fictional books about the countryside and nature have been a complete hit with you? Let me know by midnight tomorrow night (April 22nd) and I will announce the winner on Thursday, good luck! Oh and if you have any theories on why nature writing has become so popular again I would love to know that too.



Filed under Book Thoughts, Give Away, Thwaites Wainright Prize

16 responses to “The Nature Of, Erm, Nature Writing

  1. Well, my favourite novel in which the British countryside plays a big role is The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. Favourite non-fiction is harder, but I recently read The Life and Death of St Kilda by Tom Steele, which is a history book, but it explores the way that the unique landscape of St Kilda completely dominated and shaped the lives of the islanders. It’s not the best-written history book I’ve ever read, but it’s such interesting information that I could kind of put up with the repetitions and jumping around.

    I don’t know why nature books are suddenly so popular, but it’s a trend I’m completely on board with!

  2. dirtmother

    Two books stand out for me – Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine which first showed me that nature watching (and writing) didn’t have to be all seriousness and dedication and hand wringing (when they missed the endangered bats flying over because they were in the pub) and How to be a Bad Birdwatcher by Simon Barnes. The latter was a life-changer.

    I think there’s an element of nostalgia in the current popularity of nature writing but surely it has always been around, and known *about* (if not actually read)? Poets of course have always had a big corner of the market.

    I do a fair bit of nature reading (currently The Peregrine by JA Baker, a classic) but haven’t read any of these. Mark Cocker has done some wonderful stuff (eg Crow Country) and the Richard Askwith will be preaching to the converted, given yesterday’s happy slow evening probably not technically fast enough to count as a jog run round Farley Moor (hello fox, hello sun setting over Stanton Moor, hello mist, hello cows) So I’d love to get my teeth into the shortlist.

  3. Oooh, what a great giveaway – I was oogling the shortlist only yesterday!

    I enjoyed Watership Down by Richard Adams hugely the other year when I read it (not worked my way up to the cartoon version!).

    I also highly recommend Patrick Barkham for non fiction writing. The Butterfly Isles and Badgerlands were fabulous. He has a new book out too, Coastlines – waiting to get my mits in that somehow too!

    H for Hawk was a brilliant read too!

    Fingers crossed!

  4. Awesome. I’m a complete country girl as you know..though I did tale off somewhat with William Atkins’ ‘The Moor’ (which is a huge shame as I was so excited about it) as it all started a get a bit repetitive. Hugely excited to read H is for Hawk though (like just about everyone else)

    The Bees by Laline Paull would be my obvious fiction choice BUT, since we’ve all mentioned it so much lately I’d go for the HE Bates Darling Buds books. Full of summer sun and strawberries. A book to make you fall in love with English countryside and antics all over again.

    Non-fiction absolutely (and aptly) has to be Wainwright’s Lake District walking books. Beautifully illustrated, poetic and a must must must for a lover of all things wild and green 🙂

  5. My favourites (they’re non-fiction) are Kathleen Jamie’s books – Findings and Sightlines. The writing is absolutely beautiful, she writes about the Scottish area where she lives, and various other topics but they’re all wonderful. I highly recommend her.

  6. For fictional it has to be The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Such wonderful descriptions of the animals and the garden. For non-fiction I’m currently loving Tweet of the Day by Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss.

  7. I think my favourite non-fiction nature writing will always be My Family and Other Animals (that counts, right?) – it’s just hilarious. And my favourite fiction is my favourite novel, Watership Down – though I see I’m not alone there!

  8. CarolineC

    My favourite fiction book set in the countryside is The Poet’s Wife by Judith Allnatt – this book is based on the life of John Clare. I’m not a big fan of poetry myself, but this book transports you to the countryside that his poems are based on. I absolutely loved it and kept the book to read again.
    My favourite non-fiction book(s) are my whole shelf of walking guides – I’m a big fan of long-distance walking, it’s the best way to see our beautiful countryside.
    The most recent good non-fiction book that I read was A Sting in the Tale by Dave Goulson – this is a very accessible and interesting book about bees. Dave Goulson’s writing style makes this book appealing to all readers.
    I’m not sure why there is an increase of interest in nature writing – I do think it’s important to make this type of book appealing to all readers, and not be too heavy on the technical jargon.

  9. Ann

    Room For The Cuckoo by Mabel Esther Allan is a girls’ career story written in the early 50s describing a year on a farm. For non-fiction, the most recent one I enjoyed was Jane Austen’s Country Life by Deirdre Le Faye.

  10. Marina

    I can’t take part in the giveaway because I live in Cyprus but I’d like to make a recommendation anyway! Like you I hadn’t really read these kind of books but I recently saw Robert MacFarlane’s The old ways on display at a local bookshop and bought it on a whim. So glad I did, It’s marvelous! It’s beautifully written and most of it is about the British isles. It takes me back to the Britain I fell in love with when I used to live there. But it’s also about people he meets and books he reads and poems… What’s not to love?

  11. Celia

    The most wonderful non-fiction nature book is Gerald Durrell’s autobiographical ‘My Family and Other Animals’. His family move to Cyprus for a period in his childhood and their experiences there combined with Gerald’s affinity with nature are simply gorgeous. The prose is beautiful.
    A great fiction nature book is The Life of Pi. Not only does the tale tell of Pi’s adventures with Richard Parker (the tiger), but all his encounters with flora and fauna during his nautical adventure are so engaging, and could even be separated into short stories (but it was a long time ago that I read this one!)

  12. A wonderful non-fiction nature book is Gerald Durrell’s autobiographical ‘My Family and Other Animals’. His family moved to Corfu for a period in his childhood and their experiences, coupled with his affinity for nature, are described in simply gorgeous prose. Such a beautiful, summery read, the pages practically radiate warmth and sunshine.
    A great fiction nature book is ‘The Life of Pi’ by Yann Martel. Not only does it detail Pi’s nautical adventures with Richard Parker the tiger, but all of the flora and fauna he meets on his adventure are included in a way that could make them a set of short stories in themselves.

  13. Sorry for posting twice, I thought it hadn’t worked earlier!

  14. Fiction: I re-read The Call of The Wild by Jack London recently, and what a masterpiece of brevity that is. Non-fiction: I love Bill Bryson, and his book A Walk in the Woods is a very enjoyable read.

  15. Alison P

    I’m currently reading Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver which is wonderful on the life of the monarch butterfly and for non-fiction, if you love walking, Robert McFarlane’s The Old Ways makes you want to put on your boots and head for the hills.

  16. Pingback: The Thwaites Wainright Prize Winner is… | Savidge Reads

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